Spotlight on substance abuse

Substance abuse is a devastating health problem. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) substance abuse refers to the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs like cocaine, marijuana (“dagga”) or methamphetamine (“tik”).

It can lead to “dependence syndrome” – i.e. a cluster of behavioural, cognitive and physiological phenomena - that develops after repeated substance use and typically includes a strong desire to take the drug, difficulties in controlling its use, persisting in its use despite harmful consequences, a higher priority given to drug use than to other activities and obligations, increased tolerance, and sometimes a physical withdrawal state (APA, 2000).

Drugs have generally been shown to have adverse effects on the functioning of the brain and on the lives of the abusers and their families.

As a result, Substance Abuse Awareness Week is an important campaign dedicated to raising awareness of the dangers of substance abuse and promoting a healthy lifestyle. This is an opportunity to educate the public on the ways of dealing with, and managing substance abuse, and to provide information about the treatment resources that are available in South Africa. Health24 is hosting a special guest expert forum
which gives readers the opportunity to pose questions to five experts.

Why it is important
Substance abuse and substance abuse disorders are very prevalent in South Africa. The range of drugs abused and the burden of drug use is generally greater in the Western Cape (Parry, 2005) and the Free State than in other provinces (Stein et al., 2007).

We encourage everyone to take hands with the MHIC during this campaign to become part of our efforts to make mental health a priority in South Africa.

For more information on substance abuse prevention and counseling services, contact the MHIC on tel: 021 938 9229 / fax 021 931 4172 / email: / website: or visit the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA) at

American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), 4th ed. American Psychiatric Press: Washington, DC.
Parry, CDH. (2005). Substance abuse trends in the Western Cape: 1997-2004. Fact sheet: Alcohol & Drug Abuse Research Unit, Medical Research Council.
Stein DJ, Seedat S, Herman AA,. Heeringa SG, Moomal H, Myer L, Suliman S, Koza L, Williams D. (2007). Findings from the first South African Stress and Health Study Policy Brief. South African Medical Research Council (
World Health Organization (WHO):

(- Mental Health Information Centre, June 2009)

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